Boateng, a player reborn, makes the needy his goal

Middlesbrough midfield powerhouse is on more than a football mission.
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The Independent Football

It was Jasper Carrott, during a funny phase, who reacted to Glenn Hoddle's declaration that he had found God, by saying something like "that must have been one hell of a pass". Christianity has always been part of George Boateng's life, but it was not until the Ghana-born Dutch midfielder turned 17 that he started going to church and devouring the Bible.

It was Jasper Carrott, during a funny phase, who reacted to Glenn Hoddle's declaration that he had found God, by saying something like "that must have been one hell of a pass". Christianity has always been part of George Boateng's life, but it was not until the Ghana-born Dutch midfielder turned 17 that he started going to church and devouring the Bible.

Now 29, Boateng has found the form of his career and inner peace under manager Steve McClaren's guidance at Middlesbrough, following his £5m move from Aston Villa three years ago.

Boateng had been ever present this season until he missed Thursday's Uefa Cup win in Greece with a stomach bug, but he will be back today to face Portsmouth and try to consolidate their top six place.

If he scores, as he did for the first time in 82 games in last weekend's win at Blackburn, Boateng will probably celebrate with a glass of his favourite drink, water, and send his bonus back to his mother in Ghana, where she runs a church and refuge, funded by her son.

Though bold in the tackle and a dominant character on the pitch, Boateng is reticent to the point of shyness when it comes to discussing his private life and his mother's work for disadvantaged kids. He recently fixed up a trial for one youngster and his mother helps men learn to drive so they can obtain a licence and bus people to work. Without that, they would have no jobs.

Boateng said: "These things I do off the field are to help people, but my mum arranges everything there. I have to concentrate on my football. I have to be careful to save my energy. I must not get too involved and let it affect my football and my family. I also have young kids and they take up my time - it's family and football. I get lots of letters from people and churches. I read them and see if the need is really there.

"But all the work is done by my wife [Adriana] and my mum. We have had one boy from Ghana on trial in Denmark. I sent him some boots and my mum said he sleeps with them on his pillow, he loves them so much. My mum says he reminds her of me when I was that age, but I'm her only son and it was a shock - I don't want him to take my place with her. We're not pushing him to play football. So long as he enjoys it, that's the main thing. We want him to stay in school."

Boateng grew up in similar surroundings, sharing a living space with other families and his mother, who then ran her own hairdressing business, while his dad sent money back from his base, in Spijkenisse, Holland. A keen student, the only trouble Boateng seemed to get into was for playing football after dark. At 10, it was decided George needed the more challenging educational environment of Holland. He joined his dad there and within three years was progressing at school and sport and was spotted by a scout from local side Sparta.

From there he progressed to Excelsior in Rotterdam and Feyenoord before Gordon Strachan lured him to Coventry in 1997. Then to Aston Villa, where he played with current Middlesbrough team-mates Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu. He says that the arrival of attacking players such as Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, however, are helping to bring out the best in his game.

"When I first came here there was a defensive job to do and I concentrated on that, but it's changing now," Boateng said. "I was more of an offensive player at Coventry and did score, but I became a holding player at Villa and that continued here. But now we've moved up step by step and we're winning games we would have drawn or lost before this season. My game is changing again.

"When the new players arrived I thought, 'This is what I need'. Jimmy Floyd and Mark have had a big impact. It's amazing to see how Szilard Nemeth is so sharp purely because of the arrival of those two. It's the same with Joseph Job. You should see how hard he is working in training." Hasselbaink has six goals in eight Premiership games, but he is not in the Holland squad. Neither is Boateng, who has previously been capped twice.

He added: "There are a lot of good strikers there. I really focus on what's happening here. The Holland manager [Marco van Basten] mainly picks players in the national league, so a lot of great players are not involved. People have criticised the league in Holland as poor, but it's not Mickey Mouse. I have no complaints. I've learned to live with it."

Just as he has learned to adapt to the constant demands of tough Premiership matches. Boro will be expected to win today, but Boateng insisted: "Portsmouth are better than people think. They have good players and a good manager. They won't be involved in relegation.

"We need to win to stay up there and show that the Blackburn result was no fluke. We need to finish in the top six or win another cup for it to be a successful season."

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